ONE OF THE MOST influential designers working today, Debbie Millman is the host of Design Matters, one of the world’s longest-running podcasts; she co-owns Print, the oldest design magazine in America; and she co-founded the Masters in Branding program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. She’s also the author of seven books, including How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, and her new anthology, Why Design Matters: Conversations With the World’s Most Creative People, which came out in February. Here, Millman shares how she organizes her life for maximum creativity. –EMILY REMS
Why Design Matters is based on over 15 years of podcast interviews. How did you go about tackling such a huge task?
Well, my original manuscript deadline was September of 2019. But I met (my now wife) Roxane Gay in October of 2018 and fell madly in love. Nothing else mattered. I was, like, “Book schnook! I am in love! I can’t do anything but be in love!” I put off writing for so long I had to ask for an extension and—when I was given an extra year—I was still late. The most difficult aspect of organizing the book was determining who to include, since I had over 400 interviews to consider. So, I created criteria for decision-making based on timelessness of the interview, quality ofthe conversation, and my ability to secure photographs that revealed the soul of my guest.
You area writer, an artist, an educator, a curator, and a podcast host. Does your writing practice change, based on the genre or project?
Yes. When I am writing and designing something (like a visual essay), I often edit in service of the design. When I am constructing podcast questions, I try to tell a story via my questions that reveals the linear arc of my guest’s life. When writing design criticism or a piece like my recent essay in TheWashington Post, I spend hours writing and rewriting. This type of writing is much harder for me as it is less dependent on the visuals or voice.
Do you prefer to write longhand or to type? What kind of computer and software do you use?
When I am creating visual essays, I use Procreate with an Apple Pencil on my iPad, and I almost always draw and write “by hand” with my pencil on the device. When I am writing essays or writing for my podcast, I use my MacBook and Microsoft Word. For presenting, I use PowerPoint, and for revising art and graphics I use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat.
How many hours a day do you write, and do you ever take days off?
My schedule for writing and making art is mostly mandated by project or assignment deadlines. For every original podcast, I spend about 10 to20 hours preparing. I do take time off to travel, but when I do, I also love making visual stories. I find those to be utterly inspiring and extremely relaxing.
Where is your preferred writing space?
My absolute favorite place to work is in my home office in Los Angeles, which I think is the most beautiful and inspiring place on the planet.
Do you listen to music or keep on some other background noise while writing or do you prefer silence?
I prefer absolute silence when writing or researching, but my wife lovesworking with the television on, so when we are parallel working, I’ve begun to do that, too, unless I really need deep concentration.
Are you alone when you write or are there loved ones/pets/cafe people around?
I am almost never alone, especially now during COVID times. I am either with my wife, cats, and dog at home, or with one or two masked colleagues at the School of Visual Arts.
What do you like to wear when you write?
Sweatpants, super-soft T-shirts, fuzzy socks, and an oversized sweater.
Do you have a pet peeve about the writing life?
How easy it is to procrastinate!
This article originally appeared in BUST's Spring 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!
Photo: John Madere